Secretary Bob Williams from Te Marae Ora. (PHOTO: COOK ISLANDS TOURISM). 21032305
Preparations for a travel bubble with New Zealand are continuing and Prime Minister Mark Brown says Government is continuing its work to be ready by the beginning of next month.
Preparations in advance of quarantine-free
travel with New Zealand are picking up speed with the arrival of New Zealand
government staff to assist with the training of local health workers.
Following the stationing of Cook Islands
government staff in New Zealand for two weeks earlier this month, a team from
New Zealand’s Ministry of Health is currently in Rarotonga for a two-week
attachment with Te Marae Ora (TMO) to assist with health readiness planning in
advance of any travel bubble.
Te Marae Ora secretary Bob Williams said the
health ministry ran a ‘live’ scenario last week, which provided a simulation
dealing with potential cases of Covid-19 in the Cook Islands.
“The gaps that we have identified from that
scenario is the training that some of the officials with New Zealand’s Ministry
of Health are taking our staff through,” Williams said.
Training on contact tracing, including
utilising the recently released CookSafe+ app, is also taking place.
“Using the app to contact trace is something
new to our staff, so that training is being provided to them,” he said.
Contact tracing systems were recently
bolstered with the signing of an agreement with the Cook Islands Red Cross,
which has also offered to assist with the nation’s Covid-19 vaccination
programme and other challenges surrounding the opening of the border.
Williams said TMO is also exploring the
possibility of making an arrangement with first responders such as police and
firefighters, to assist with contact tracing.
Improvements to TMO’s mass testing abilities
are also on track, Williams said, with the final pieces of equipment for
Rarotonga Hospital’s PCR lab having arrived earlier this month.
An overseas trainer has arrived this week, and
training was expected to start with lab technicians on Wednesday and continue
for two weeks.
When a bubble opens up, Williams said visitors
will not be required to undergo Covid-19 pre-testing, which places further
importance on the country’s health preparedness.
“This is a new experience for us, as we move
towards quarantine-free travel,” said Williams.
“The challenge is around decision making,
understanding the risks presented in New Zealand, and knowing what we need to
put in place to mitigate the risk of Covid-19 coming through here. So that will
mean being vigilant at the border and through all of Ministry of Health’s
A firm date for a travel bubble between both
countries has not been announced.
Last month Prime Minister Mark Brown said the
country will be ready for quarantine-free travel by May 1, however he has since
said the country will be working with the New Zealand government to jointly
announce a date for the beginning of two-way travel.
Both Brown and his New Zealand counterpart,
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, have broadly set May as the target month for the
This week Brown said he is expecting a bubble
readiness assessment report from the Border Easement Taskforce, which includes
the heads of a number of government agencies and is chaired by Tepaeru
Herrmann, secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Immigration.
“We have been uncompromising in our commitment
to ensuring all necessary health and border measures are instituted to the
highest standards of protection against Covid-19 prior to commencement of the
quarantine-free travel arrangement,” Brown said this week.